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NFC East Notebook: How the NFC East became the best of the worst in football

With each team in the NFC East on the brink of key division matchups, we take a closer look at the worst division in football

Philadelphia Eagles v Washington Football Team Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

As teams around the NFC East are preparing to begin a crucial stretch against fellow franchises in the division, it feels like the right time to pause and ask the question: How did the NFC East become the best at being the worst?

A quarter of the way through the 2020 season, the Philadelphia Eagles are in first place with a 1-2-1 record. The Washington Football Team is in second place at 1-3 because they defeated the Eagles in Week 1, the Dallas Cowboys are in third place with a 1-3 record and the New York Giants are winless at 0-4. As a division, the NFC East has only three combined wins. Around the 32-team league, every other team with a 1-3 record is either in third or last place in their division.

Just five teams in the league have turned the ball over more than seven times and four of those are in the NFC East. Through four games, NFC East teams have been outscored by 125 points.

According to ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, Philadelphia’s tie in Week 3 saved the 2020 version of the NFC East from being the worst division in modern league history through four games.

We are taking a step back from the traditional notebook this week because each team in the lowly NFC East is on the brink of important division matchups. The New York Giants are playing five of their next six games against division opponents. The Washington Football Team just benched quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. for Kyle Allen in large part because three of their next four games are against NFC East teams and they know they need a change. The Eagles play three of their next five games against teams in the division and the Cowboys play three of their next four against NFC East opponents. These upcoming weeks have the potential to define the standings for the remainder of the season.

With that, let’s take a look at each team. I am going to (attempt) to summarize the main problem with each team down to just one word and then expand on it. Let’s start with the first-place Eagles.

Philadelphia Eagles: Injuries

Philly entered the 2020 season as the NFC East defending champions but with each passing season, they look further removed from the team that won the Super Bowl in 2017. They are in first place, but do not have much to brag about. Philly tied the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 3 - a team that was the worst in the league one year ago, and defeated a San Francisco 49ers team in Week 4 that was missing its starting quarterback.

Carson Wentz has been blamed by many for the Eagles’ poor performances and some of that blame is deserved. Wentz is missing wide-open receivers and has thrown seven picks in 2020 after throwing seven in each of the last three seasons.

But Wentz is also dealing with an injury-riddled Eagles offense. Pro Football Focus’ highest-rated guard in 2019 Brandon Brooks and former first-round pick Andre Dillard are both out for the season. Jason Peters and Isaac Seumalo are on IR and right tackle Lane Johnson is still dealing with an ankle injury. Center Jason Kelce is the only lineman not hurt.

The receiving corps is not in much better shape as four of the team’s top five receivers are hurt, along with tight end Dallas Goedert.

The injuries do not serve as an excuse but they do provide some perspective. This was not the team the Eagles expected to field in 2020 and so they are being forced to adjust on the fly.

Washington Football Team: Haskins

This reason may seem like a cop-out since Washington announced Wednesday that it would be benching the sophomore quarterback in the team’s game against the Los Angeles Rams this Sunday. But through four weeks of play, we’ve only seen Haskins at quarterback. Therefore, identifying him as a weakness not only highlights his flaws but also recognizes the rest of the team’s strengths - strengths that will still be there when Kyle Allen takes over at quarterback.

Let’s begin with the weakness. As a second-year quarterback in the league, everyone knows that Haskins is inexperienced, but it’s important to remember just how inexperienced he is.

Haskins started only seven games last season and four this season, so he has not yet played a full season of professional football and did not have the benefit of preseason games this year to get some extra snaps. Haskins was just a one-year starter at Ohio State, leading a team that blew out most of its opponents. His college and high school experiences have not prepared him to compete in close games or stage comebacks, leading to a lack of situational awareness. Through four weeks, he ranks last in the league in total QBR at 30.7.

Perhaps head coach Ron Rivera benched Haskins in part because he sees the strengths of other aspects of the team. Rookie running back Antonio Gibson is tied for the league lead with 12 broken tackles and star wide receiver Terry McLaurin is one of just 13 receivers with more than 1,300 receiving yards in his first 18 games. The defense meanwhile, boasts five first-round picks, though Chase Young did miss the team’s last game with a groin injury.

It will be interesting to see how Washington does with Allen at the helm. He spent two years with the Carolina Panthers before joining Rivera’s squad in Washington. Though he has not been particularly successful in his short career, Allen knows what it means to fight - fight for a spot, a start, a snap. Maybe he will be able to help turn this team around.

Dallas Cowboys: Defense

The Cowboys defense has allowed 146 points in four games. That already seems like a lot but when you consider that that averages out to 36.5 points per game, which is the most in franchise history through four games, it seems like even more.

The offense has been just as good as what people expected. Dak Prescott became the first quarterback to throw for more than 450 yards in consecutive games when he recorded 502 passing yards on Sunday and rookie CeeDee Lamb has 309 receiving yards in four games. But even this high-powered offense is not strong enough to overcome the deficits caused by the defense.

To fund the contracts of Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper, Dallas let Byron Jones enter free agency this offseason. Other cornerbacks, including Chidobe Awuzie and Anthony Brown are on IR, along with linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Sean Lee. Linebacker Jaylon Smith is healthy, but has not done much to show for it.

Together, injuries and finances have exposed a lack of depth and prevented this defense from being successful. It’s incredible that Prescott has throw for over 450 yards in his past two games, but Dallas can’t expect weekly historic performances from its offense to keep this team afloat.

New York Giants: End zone

I won’t dwell too much on the Giants because if you’re reading this story on Big Blue View, you probably already know about New York’s many issues and don’t need a reminder.

That being said, the word for the Giants is really two words end zone, simply because they can’t find it. New York has not scored a touchdown since playing the Chicago Bears in Week 2.

The Giants are averaging 11.75 points per game and Daniel Jones seems to be consistent only in his ability to turn the ball over. The Giants defense had a strong game against the Rams last week. But they can’t win games if they don’t score and, so far, that has been the reality.